Home > The Skill of Snooping

The Skill of Snooping
Author: Christy Barritt

Chapter One



“This past weekend was great.”

Michael Straley’s voice sounded cozy as his gaze captured mine and swept me away to a place where nothing else existed—just him and me.

He tugged me around the corner—and out of sight from any watchful eyes—before we reached the sidewalk leading to our office building. As I leaned against the wood-sided wall, he stepped closer.

Michael’s warm brown eyes were filled with affection that turned my blood into hot fruit sludge. It might sound gross, but the dish was a Yerbian delicacy. I’d grown up in the South American country, and I’d been craving the tasty dessert lately.

I rested my hand on his chest as I happily conceded. “It was a great weekend.”

The two of us had not only coached a local softball team for a win, but we’d also found a murderer and had decided to explore a relationship between us.

On top of that, seven days had passed and the infamous Beltway Killer had not claimed a new victim yet in the area.

The serial killer had left a rose with a nautical knot around it last week at the baseball dugout at our practice field. In the past that had indicated that, within seven days, the Beltway Killer would strike again. The rose and the knot usually signaled who might be his next target.

Ever since I’d found the rose, I’d kept my eyes open for trouble. But I was okay, as well as my family and all the women associated with the softball team.

It looked like that rose and knot were either a falsely planted clue or that the police were wrong in their assumptions about why it had been left. Either way, I wasn’t complaining.

In fact, I was now ready for a new week and a new case.

Brighter things were on the horizon. I could feel new opportunities inching closer, like a caterpillar headed toward chrysalis.

“We should get inside,” I murmured, realizing I could stay here all day and be content.

Michael and I had already grabbed a quick cup of coffee together to start our day. As we’d sipped on our brews, we talked about our favorite foods, made plans for the next weekend, and brainstormed a project his seven-year-old daughter, Chloe, was working on for school.

Michael didn’t seem in a hurry to get to work either, but he finally shrugged. “I guess we should go. If you insist.”

“If I had a choice, I’d stay here until my legs collapsed like a xate tree with a treehouse on top.”

“A what?”

“It’s a Yerbian—”

“—expression,” Michael finished. “I’m starting to catch on.”

I grinned. “It’s about time.”

Michael quickly planted a kiss on my lips. Warmth spread through me at his touch.

I could really get used to this switch from friends to more than friends. Things just felt comfortable around Michael. Natural. Meant to be.

As he backed away, I tried to compose myself. With one more glance at each other, we strode toward the office. No one knew Michael and I were dating yet, and we wanted to keep things quiet for a little while longer. We didn’t know how our boss, Oscar Driscoll, would feel about this, and that pressure would just add one more complication to our relationship.

Michael and I needed to figure a few things out before we took that next step and told people. Plus, I did have some reservations about dating a coworker. I’d done it before, and the results had been disastrous. I’d be wise to remember the lessons I’d learned.

Michael took my hand and led me around the building. I willed my heart to slow at his touch, but it didn’t work. Michael’s touch caused a fire to rush through me.

That was a true fact, as Michael liked to say.

He released his grip as soon as we stepped onto the sidewalk.

“I wonder what’s on the agenda for this week,” I said, trying to use my most professional tone. But my voice cracked, rendering my efforts useless.

“Who knows? Could be a wayward spouse. An insurance claim. A stolen necklace. That’s what makes this job interesting. It’s something new every day.”

As we stepped into the office of Driscoll and Associates, the private investigation firm we worked for, I opened my mouth to call hello to Velma, as I always did. She was our receptionist, administrative assistant, and resident extreme cheapskate.

I paused when I saw her empty desk.

She must have run to the bathroom.

I shrugged it off and went into my office, depositing my purse near my desk. At any minute, I expected Velma to appear and Oscar to open his door and bellow out some instructions. The man was a former police detective and acted like a dictator most of the time.

The man might officially be in charge, but he mostly let other people do his grunt work for him while he watched soap operas and ate pistachios. Occasionally, he rubbed elbows with the “elites” in town, which possibly drummed up business. The effectiveness of that was still yet to be determined.

As if Oscar had read my mind, his door opened. But this time, he didn’t yell for us. Instead Oscar, with his out-of-date mustache and forty extra pounds, stepped out into the reception area.

He frowned as he glanced at Michael then me. “I thought you two were Velma.”

The first trickle of concern washed through my system. “You mean she’s not here?”

“I haven’t seen her. It’s not like her to be late.”

Oscar was right. Velma seemed to really love her job and to take it seriously. She was always here when we needed her. She brought in muffins—mostly found discarded, but sealed for freshness, in dumpsters. She brightened the office with roses her neighbor had thrown out after a breakup. Recently, she’d taken to splitting our two-ply into one-ply to save Oscar some money—not that he’d asked her to save money.

Despite her quirky ways, Velma was a total asset to our team.

“Has anyone tried to call her?” I moved in front of my desk so I could read Oscar’s expression.

“I’ll do that now,” Oscar said. “I was giving her a few minutes, in case she was stuck in traffic or something.”

I paced toward Oscar’s office and lingered in the doorway, listening as he picked up his cell phone and put it to his ear.

After a few minutes, he lowered the device and frowned. “No answer.”

Michael appeared beside me and crossed his muscular arms over his chest, obscuring his “Watch for Glitches” T-shirt. “I wonder what’s going on.”

“Let’s give her a few more minutes.” Oscar sat down at his massive, throne-like desk. “I’m sure she has a bona fide explanation for this.”

I might be able to justify that if Velma was just late. But the fact that she hadn’t called and wasn’t answering her phone ratcheted my concern up another level.

“While we wait . . . do you have any cases lined up this week?” Michael asked Oscar, stepping farther into his office.

“There are just a few minor things that we have going on.” Oscar grabbed a handful of pistachios and leaned back. “We’re going to be running some background checks and things like that. Nothing too strenuous.”

I supposed that was a good thing, although those tasks were rather boring. I actually preferred doing fieldwork, something that surprised even me. Up until a month ago, I’d thought I was a list-making, number-crunching kind of girl. But maybe not.

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